Today is Father’s Day, so I wanted to reflect back on what that means to me. The photo here is from many years ago, taken when we were headed to cut down a Christmas tree in Virginia.

Last night, I learned that a long time friend lost her Dad. Not only was she his baby, but his namesake. Martin became Martie when her parents realized that this was their last child and there were to be no boys to take his exact name. So his name was changed to Martie – close enough to pass on. I haven’t seen Martin in over 30 years, I remember our interactions 35 years ago with clarity. He was tough at first appearance, but only because he wanted you to know that you’d better treat his daughter right. I could never fault him for that! Martie always held her father up with a reverence uncommon in our generation. Having a father pass just hours before Father’s Day must be difficult for her and her sisters.

According to Wikipedia, “Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.” When I reflect back on my time as a father and the time with my own father, I have somewhat of a different point of view. Without getting into too many details, let’s just say that my experience with my own Dad growing up was a bit strained. In high school, I didn’t get much support from him. I was berated for bad grades with little respect to the enormous course load and course difficulty. At our high school in the late 1970s, we didn’t have course weighting, so an A in home economics was superior to a B in Calculus. My class ranking was only mediocre due to the six math and five science courses taken from 8th – 12th grade. My education, however, was outstanding. Not the same in his eyes.

I had early support during sports, although that wained in the later years as I just kept playing. During college, I had almost zero financial support compared to my four other siblings (I was the middle of five). I think I earned his respect when I not only finished school, but took the time to earn much of the money to complete my education without significant student loans. I’m positive that I am looked at in a much better light now that I’m an adult with a successful marriage, two good kids of my own, and, important to him, a very successful career. My father is in his mid 80’s now, in relatively poor health, and with a woman that is both his landlord and his sometimes boss. She likely has no clue how much she uses him – it’s just the kind of person she is. They were once married, divorced but stayed together, and now simply share an address. He does all that he can to please her with what I can suspect, getting very little in return. If he had only had put forth the same effort with my Mom, he would have enjoyed a much healthier second half of his life.

While I don’t want to slam him for the job he did while I was growing up (and later on), I often compare myself to him in determining my own success as a parent. My two children are as different as night and day and I am probably a very different parent in their eyes as well. So there are no doubts, I just want to state emphatically that I love my children more than anyone knows. It’s not more or less love – just adapted to their polar opposite personalities.

Our son is a late-diagnosed Asperger’s kid who is struggling to find his way. He often escapes into his room and the Internet to help. I don’t understand him most of the time, but do know that he’s still a kid, scared to death of what lies out there. He has no friends that he associates with that are not online, although gets along with others (including his instructors) at school. Once school was over, he really hasn’t been out of the house by himself, other than to shop for some groceries or play taxi for the family. He’s applying for jobs only when he can do so without meeting people (via online applications), and will be very hesitant to meet with someone who calls him in for an interview. I’m sure that the job applications are few and far between due to this fear. To say that our father-son relationship is strained would be a complete understatement. I don’t understand what he’s going through, so I walk softly without saying much for fear of setting him off and starting a fight with his Mom because of something I said that is taken incorrectly. His mother is his real parent most of the time, and the fact that he has let her stay “in”makes me grateful. We know that the best thing for him would be for him to live elsewhere, which should provide him with some respect for how much gets done by others on his behalf today. We’re also very fearful of him living by himself, in continued isolation while the world goes by.

Our daughter is the complete opposite. She is 17, outgoing, with tons of friends and not at all fearful of getting out there and interacting with others. She’s a good student when she applies herself, and is looking forward to college away from home as a fantastic opportunity to meet others and find herself. She has been dating the same boy for 18+ months, although he lives 2 hours to the north. She doesn’t want to think about the fact that this won’t last forever, but is enjoying the moment. I am closer to my daughter than I ever thought possible at 17. I frustrate her, and she frustrates me, but we love each other and respect each other and laugh together often. People often say that it’s easy to tell that she’s my daughter – from brown eyes to dimples and everything in-between. I’m cherishing the time was have before she leaves, fearing the empty house when she does.

So while I had a strained relationship with my father growing up, I have tried to understand and grow from that experience. When I reflect on my job as a father thus far, I’m not sure it’s been any more successful in some ways, yet far superior in others. I guess it would depend on which of my children you ask. I’d tell you that you might want to ask my daughter, but if you ask my son, hope that my grades as a father are done with a weighted grade scale in mind.

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